Humans have practiced dentistry for at least 13,000 years

Who needs anesthesia when you have a sharp rock and some naturally-occurring asphalt to fill a cavity? Archaeologists found evidence of Paleolithic dentistry.

After the team used computer reconstructions to examine the cavities, they analyzed the bitumen in the fillings.

The researchers also found bits of hair and plant fibers stuck in the bitumen, though they are not sure what purpose they served. Overall the teeth appeared to have undergone a similar process as seen in modern dentistry: the cavities were drilled out and filled.

While this is the only example of the technique discovered, team leader Stefano Benazzi, of the University of Bologna says it might not be an isolated case and that the technology could have spread. "[T]hey may be part of a broader trend, or tradition, of dental interventions among late [Stone Age] foragers in Italy," he tells Bower.

The full report is in Physical Anthropology.

13,000-Year-Old Fillings Were "Drilled" With Stone and Packed With Tar (Smithsonian)